Russia's Bolshoi Theater Seeks to Calm Scandal With New Appointed Director

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Sergey Filin, artistic director of The Bolshoi Theater, whose eyes were damaged in an acid attack last January.

Vladimir Urin replaces Anatoly Iskanov six months after artistic director Sergey Filin’s eyesight is damaged in an acid attack.

MOSCOW -- In a move designed to draw a line under a series of scandals at Moscow’s famous ballet and opera venue, the Bolshoi Theater – including an alleged acid attack on its artistic director and massive cost overruns in a controversial reconstruction project, Russia’s minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky has replaced theater director Anatoly Iksanov.

Iksanov – 13 years in the job, will be succeeded by Vladimir Urin, who has run the nearby Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theater since the early 1990s.

Urin, who is charged with ushering in a period of calm and stability at the Bolshoi just six months after artistic director Sergey Filin suffered possibly permanent damage to his eyesight after an acid attack reportedly connected to seething off-stage rivalries, said his first reaction on being offered the job was to turn it down.

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“I realize perfectly well what burden I will have to shoulder,” he said. “One person can’t do anything, but together we can go forward.”

It is a sizeable challenge and one Medinsky sought to ameliorate in an informal press conference in the lobby of the Bolshoi when he offered the outgoing director a job at the ministry – as his advisor.

But Medinsky underscored the importance of change at the theater: “The challenging situation means the theater needs renewal.”

The Bolshoi’s woes began with a major reconstruction project 2005-2011 that drew criticism from architectural historians and the public when it turned out it has cost an estimated $1800 million – 16 times more than original estimates.

Three years ago a prosecutors opened a probe into alleged misuse of reconstruction funds and the theater’s top dancer Nikolay Tsiskaridze fell out with Iskanov over a design he compared to a “tacky hotel in Turkey.”

Last month Tsiskaridze was told his contract as a dancer and teacher would not be renewed from July 1 but he and his supporters are mounting a vocal campaign for reinstatement.

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Known to consider himself a future director of the Bolshoi, Tsiskaridze’s reaction to Iskanov’s departure was characteristic.

“What can I say? He dug his own grave,” he said.

The bad blood off stage at the Bolshoi hit international headlines in January when artistic director Filin was attacked; the key suspect dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko initially confessed on national television shortly after being arrested but later denied all knowledge that an acidic liquid would be used in the attack.

Russian media reports say the dispute between Filin and Dmitrichenko was over a young dancer Anzhelina Vorontsova.

Filin remains in Germany, where he went for expert surgery on his eyes shortly after the attack. It is not known if doctors will be able to full restore his eyesight.